Shida Kartli (Georgian: შიდა ქართლი, meaning "Upper Kartli") is a region in the central north of Georgia (country), which borders Russia to the north. Gori is the principal city and administrative center of the region.
Within Shida Kartli there is a very strong division between the northern and southern regions. The northern part of the region (Java, the City of Tskhinvali, and northern parts of Kareli and Gori) is claimed by the secessionist government of South Ossetia and is not under the de facto control of the Georgian central government. Within this northern part of Shida Kartli, ethnic Ossetes constitute the majority of the population and lend the region a different culture. The rest of Shida Kartli, in the south, is predominantly inhabited by ethnic Georgians and shares its culture closely with neighboring regions.
Language usage within Shida Kartli varies by region, principally across the north-south/Ossete-Georgian divide. In the southern parts of the region under Georgian control, people principally speak Georgian, but a large minority also speaks Russian. In the north, Ossetian is the language of the ethnic Ossetes, but many if not most Ossetes will also be conversant in Russian. Georgian is often understood, but due to the serious ethnic conflict, travelers attempting to speak Georgian within South Ossetia may encounter hostility.
The most interesting sites in Shida Kartli are unquestionably the amazing, ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe near Gori, and the Stalin Museum in the center of Gori—a visitor to the region should skip neither. Gori has several other interesting historical sites, including a Roman Empire-era fortress, Gori Jvari (a small mountain top monastery), Gori Gimnasium - restored former Seminary, where Stalin studied and other Stalin-related sites, (being, as it is, Stalin's hometown).
Further north, the safest place to visit (though it is most certainly not a safe place to visit), is Tskhinvali. Ethnic conflict, vandalism, and even looting have left the city with little to offer a tourist, but the city center has a couple interesting monuments to Ossete historical figures, and to the conflict itself.
Warning: South Ossetia is considered the most dangerous and unstable part of Georgia and it is not a recommended tourist destination. The sporadic fighting between the central government and secessionists has waned since the open conflict between Russian and Georgian troops. But the regular violence and banditry that persists, facilitated by the general lawlessness of the region, is a much bigger threat than the skirmishes ever were. Yes, Russian peacekeepers control the area militarily, but they are not an administrative police force—you will not be able to count on them for help. Southern Shida Kartli is a perfectly safe travel destination, but it is generally inadvisable to travel much farther north than Gori.
When leaving Shida Kartli, it is best to take off from one of the region's two principal cities: Gori or Tskhinvali. From these two cities, there is regular traffic heading south towards Georgia's main east-west highway. Going from Shida Kartli to Tbilisi is straightforward. Travelers wishing to head west towards Imereti and Kutaisi, however, should plan to go to the bus station early as there is considerably less traffic headed in this direction.